Ongoing Research

Leadership and Character at Wake Forest

As part of our efforts to understand how leadership and character are cultivated, we pursue rigorous research to inform our programming and assess offerings within the Program for Leadership and Character, including courses, discussion groups, spring break opportunities, and workshops. Part of this assessment is used as in an empirical research project to understand how to develop leadership and character in both college and professional students. This research provides an opportunity to share our methods and findings with the scholarly community and equip others to educate leaders of character in their own contexts.

Our research questions include:

  1. What strategies best cultivate leadership and character in undergraduate and professional students?
  2. Are particular strategies linked to cultivating specific virtues in this context?
  3. Are particular strategies better suited to cultivate leadership and character in undergraduate students when compared to professional students?
  4. Are there content areas (e.g., computer science, humanities) that promote certain attributes of leadership and character more than others?
  5. Are students in courses and programs explicitly shaped around promoting leadership and character more effective in actually leading with character when compared to courses and programs without this explicit goal?
  6. What are the differences in leadership and character development when comparing the context of coursework with co-curricular activities?
  7. What is the impact of explicit leadership and character student programming on student, faculty, staff, and institutional flourishing?

We explore these questions through direct and indirect assessment of leadership and character attributes, which include empirically-validated measures, course assignments, behavioral indices, and measurement of strategies utilized to develop leadership and character.

Read more about our partnership with Lilly Endowment, Inc. here.

Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character

Is it possible to develop our character by emulating role models or exemplars? Can narratives of moral exemplars play a unique role in shaping specific character virtues? Can academic institutions employ exemplar interventions to promote moral development among their students? These questions animate our network project, “Exemplar Interventions to Develop Character.”

We believe that a significant gap exists between what we know generally about the theoretical and pedagogical value of exemplars and what we know specifically and practically about how they can promote character virtues. Integrating insights from philosophy, psychology, theology, literature, and education, the project aims to provide a strong foundation for exemplar interventions by examining three questions:

  1. Which psychological and pedagogical mechanisms influence the impact of exemplars?
  2. Which types of exemplars are most effective for developing specific character virtues?
  3. How can scholarly research on exemplars be translated into effective exemplar interventions?

This project aims to provide concrete answers to these questions through a network of multi-site studies that seek insights on how exemplar interventions work for which virtues under what conditions. These studies will do the following:

  • Analyze key mechanisms in the use of exemplars among middle and high school students and college students, while exploring how a university program can provide evidence for the successful design and dissemination of exemplar-based character education.
  • Examine how varying the content of exemplar narratives may help to promote specific character virtues, particularly in the wake of adversity.
  • Explore the psychological, literary, and spiritual functions of exemplars narratives across different genres, including spiritual literature, novels, fables, and fairy tales.

We would like to offer a special thanks to the John Templeton Foundation for supporting this research. This project’s core goal of promoting character virtues through exemplars aligns squarely with Sir John Templeton’s concern for fostering character virtues through engagement with moral exemplars. The opinions expressed in this project are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more about the John Templeton Foundation here.

For more details about each project, click here.

For a list of research collaborators and board of advisors, click here.

Character in Engineering

In partnership with the Program for Leadership and Character, the Department of Engineering is integrating character modules into their curriculum with the support of more than $700,000 from the Kern Family Foundation and the Kern Entrepreneurial Engineering Network. The most recent two-year grant for $557,140 funds two postdoctoral fellows, Drs. Joe Wiinikka-Lydon and Adetoun Yeaman, to work with faculty to design and teach modules on character in essential engineering courses. The grant also supports the work of Drs. Olga Pierrakos, Michael Lamb, and Michael Gross to investigate the effectiveness of character education in engineering and produce resources that can aid other engineering faculty at Wake Forest and beyond. This interdisciplinary work reflects an ongoing partnership between the Department of Engineering and Program for Leadership and Character to advance character within engineering education.

For more information about this exciting project and partnership, click here.